Its all about the work.
Theatre venues in the UK have made progress in widening the representation of diverse people on stages, in high quality work with impact which plays out to general audiences.
Black, gay, transgender, deaf and disabled and mental health focused work has been commissioned and supported by venues and by Arts Council England initiatives.
Intersectionality informs a thirst to break traditional silos and open doors to dramatic experiences of all of the human condition.
New stories, new voices and new experiences are being heard on main stages but one group continues to be unseen and unheard…
Separate Doors 1 and 2 highlighted the experiences of leading actors with learning disabilities, the integrated companies they train with, casting, representation and the wider landscape.
Separate Doors 3 will explore the work itself.
How do you approach writing drama featuring learning disabled characters? How do you effectively direct actors with moderate learning disabilities? How do you manage an integrated rehearsal room? Is devising or writing best or a mixture of both forms? What are the creative pitfalls and bonuses? How can vocational actors with learning disabilities be included in standard programmes and processes?
I’ll be looking at my own and others’ artistic processes, directorial choices, rehearsal room practice and playwriting craft in the development of new high quality integrated work featuring actors with moderate learning disabilities.
Key participants will be leading actors with learning disabilities, established playwrights, Artistic and Associate Directors of producing venues, theatre makers and practitioners, devising companies and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
Master classes in my Silent Approach, rehearsal room analysis, interviews with leading creatives and the outcome of a forum event in London in Summer 2019 will form the backbone of the third Separate Doors report.
There’ll be regular updates here and you can follow the progress of the project- and read reports 1 and 2- by clicking this link to the Separate Doors website.
There’s never been a greater will to include exceptional actors with learning disabilities in general audience facing work.
Separate Doors 3 will go beyond the will, and find the creative way….
Participation is a bugle call, excellence is dynamite
Gifted actors with learning learning disabilities have a right to access acting and rehearsal craft and audiences benefit from the characters and stories trained actors with learning disabilities bring to general audience work.
I accepted the challenge and approached the work with three objectives in mind:
- To offer a hands on ‘doing it’ experience of Silent Approach ensemble, physical and vocal exercises.
- To showcase Silent Approach non verbal directing technique
- To inspire interest in and commitment to this kind of inclusive approach and integrated theatre and casting.
The Silent Approach is an equaliser.
It unlocks standard rehearsal process by removing the need for speech (Apart from the play text) and it allows vocational actors with and without learning disabilities to work together with equality.
The foundation of the approach is Stanislavsky’s system.
Actors with and without learning disabilities trained in this way can readily access the technique.
It gives directors a non verbal map to get scenes up and work them and run them to production readiness.
No actor is excluded from the rehearsal process on the grounds of verbal or cognitive ability.
It works for text based, standard ‘written’ plays as well as working for physical and devised work.
I chose to work on the day with Dark Horse actors Toby Meredith and Rebekah Hill, both trained and experienced actors with Downs Syndrome. I also cast non-disabled actor Johnny Vivash who I worked with on two national tours of my play HYPOTHERMIA.
The Silent Approach is dynamic.
Asking a large roomful of people who you’ve never met before to trust, follow and go with you on a silent journey is a big ask.
Thankfully, they came with me.
I score the days activity. Music and sound effects shape a narrative and emotional pathway we can all follow.
I started the warm up by communicating physically with Toby Meredith then gathered up and collected everyone in the studio, working through the kinesphere and at different paces, returning many times to breath, inhabiting the space, working with its energy.
We then moved on to a vocal warm up, working with breath, sound, laughter, tuts and shushes, vowels and lamentations.
An hour and a half later, no one had a said a word but a lot of information had been exchanged.
We had a shared vocabulary and shared knowledge.
We were an ensemble.
The Silent Approach is effective.
I moved into scene direction, establishing given circumstances and character with video files I’d edited together for the purpose, sound cues established place.
Actors understood where they were, a little of what they wanted from their scene partner and then played off each other.
Lines were fed in.
Three lengthy scenes were directed and on their feet within an hour and fifteen minutes.
Its possible to direct a two act, two hour fifteen minute production in two weeks using the Silent Approach.
I’ve done it. Several times.
The Silent Approach is for everyone.
After lunch six directors stepped up and directed a further three scenes.
We used the same given circumstances and the same cues and the action took place in the same location as the morning scenes but the dialogue and the activity was new.
In each of the scenes an actor without learning disabilities and actors with learning disabilities delivered the kind of theatrically realistic performances you’d expect to see on a main stage.
All the directors did brilliantly. They said they’d picked up some tools which will hopefully have influence moving forwards and perhaps create some change too. And change any perception about work featuring learning disability having to happen at participatory level…It can happen at all levels, and should.
Increasingly I’m training directors and playwrights in the Silent Approach.
More and more theatres and producers want to cast actors with learning disabilities in work for general audiences.
The Silent Approach opens up opportunities for vocational actors with learning disabilities to work alongside non learning disabled vocational actors on main stages.
This means people and characters with learning disabilities can be represented more fully on stage.
It also means a dynamic rehearsal process and a richer and deeper theatre experience for everyone.
The Silent Approach is a rehearsal room methodology that grew out of a very clear objective, the need to work with an integrated cast (learning disabled and non-learning disabled actors) in a piece of general audience facing text based drama working to a three week rehearsal period.
The actors I was working with, and continue to work with, had/have Downs Syndrome and other moderate and severe learning disabilities, had limited speech, and weren’t able in most instances either to read or to understand the building blocks of Stanislavskian system (let alone directorial analogy, metaphor or out of moment jokiness).
I was aware that the energy some of my actors had to burn up deconstructing language, when this is a challenge to them, put them at an immediate disadvantage in a rehearsal room.
By removing the need to process all the extraneous explanatory and dead words around the vital words in the text these actors were liberated and so were, and are, we all.
Theatrical realism, working with character in text based drama is hard to reach for actors without access to mainstream training or mainstream directors, or playwrights, like myself, who can frame drama using devices that include learning disabled talent without expecting these actors to have the same kind of technical skills which non learning disabled actors have.
The approach means working physically, removing as much language as possible from the process and as a director shouldering more than usual levels of responsibility for the actors’ journey and an ensemble ethos.
The room is as spare as the process.
The clutter is taken away for everyone, physically and linguistically. It’s all about clarity. Person to person trust and genuine collaboration and the ability/desire to be led by a director, which of course is never guaranteed.
A set of key exercises form the fundamentals of The Silent Approach, physical, vocal and utterly collaborative, an ensemble is formed in a short space of time.
Music, sound, video and visuals support the actors journey through the work, everyone in the room is equal and everyone in the room is engaged to the work.
In a Silent Approach rehearsal room there are no observers, only doers.
Through a series of improvisations and active explorations of the drives in the scene being approached actors embrace character, given circumstances, action and objective and acquire dialogue without using scripts.
The work is accessible to all, no one is excluded from the process and the process belongs to everyone.
Directors and playwrights are learning the techniques, in the hope that the next generation of vocational actors with learning disabilities will have opportunities to work on the same stages and with the same highly talented collaborating teams as their non learning disabled peers.
Separate Doors 2 aims to change the UK theatre landscape for the better, offering tools for producers and directors to cast actors with learning disabilities in general audience facing work.
The project, focused on an exploration of the silent approach with RADA in London, starts soon.
Its going to be a dynamic and diverse rehearsal room.
Here are some of the key creatives making fire…
This is me. I’ll be producing, directing some new writing, chairing the panel at the event and writing a printed report of the whole project. I can’t wait to work in the rehearsal room with this inspiring and brilliant team, all committed to finding ways to build bridges into general programme work for exceptional actors with learning disabilities.
Geoff Bullen is director of short courses at RADA where he is Emeritus Director of actor training and specialises in teaching Shakespeare. Geoff will work with me to direct the project in the rehearsal room and in the performance space.
Toby Meredith will work with me and the RADA team on the silent approach and in developing character through scene work. A graduate of Dark Horse actor training programmes he recently worked on the research and development process for A MAN WITH DOWNS’ SYNDROME TALKS ABOUT LOVE AND TELLS A STORY.
Jack Condon is a final year student actor at RADA and he’ll be working with the team to explore Shakespearean text, character and ensemble movement work, developing skills in the silent approach and considering the opportunities offered by working as an actor in an integrated process.
Rebekah Hill is a Dark Horse actor training graduate with production experience. She’ll develop character and scenes using the silent approach and Stanislavsky based techniques.
Angela Gasparetto is a movement director and specialist and she will explore the silent approach and the possibilities of integrated work with an emphasis on physicality.
Joe Sproulle is an actor with production and national touring experience who recently worked on the research and development process for A MAN WITH DOWNS’ SYNDROME TALKS ABOUT LOVE AND TELLS A STORY. Trained in the silent approach he looks forward to sharing and developing his skills within this project ensemble.
Joel Trill is a voice and accent specialist and he will collaborate with the directors and ensemble to explore sound, character and vocal transformation through story, working with and learning about the silent approach and integrated rehearsal processes.
Alice Rogers has recently graduated from a Dark Horse foundation acting course and is developing her skills in the silent approach and building performance for production.
Gary Lagden is a text and acting technique specialist and he will work with the silent approach to explore non verbal narrative and technique for actors with learning disabilities in integrated work which plays out to general audiences.
A further female actor, two Assistant Directors and two creative associates complete the team, more news is to come soon alongside information re: the esteemed panel who’ll debate potential and obstacles in representation and casting after the process showing at RADA.
It all shapes up to be very exciting indeed, check in to the Separate Doors 2 page on this site for insights into the project as it happens.
Making tomorrows theatre today.